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Tonight's editor: patrickz
The Brazilian government has given a 'green light' for construction of the world's third largest hydroelectric power plant. The Xingu river, which supports indigenous peoples and many endemic species, will be dammed, flooding 190 square miles and forcing the evacuation of 50,000 people.
In other news, El Niños Are Growing Stronger due to climate change, the wheat genome is sequenced, and James Hansen has a message about activism and greenwashing.
Beneath the fold you will find news and notes, community announcements, and our eco-diary roundup.
All views expressed by today's editor do not necessarily represent those of eKos or eKos listed diarists.
|A rally at the Xingu, from International Rivers|
The Belo Monte Dam
Hydroelectric power, though renewable, is not necessarily 'green'. Destruction and isolation of wildlife habitat is the most obvious side effect of these dams. The initial flooding can also create large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, due to the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in the bed of a new reservoir.
In the Amazon, large dams are particularly damaging due to the high concentration of endemic species and plant matter, as well as the presence of indigenous tribes. Also, while the dam is touted as providing enough electricity to power 23 million homes, there is speculation that some of the energy will go into expansion of mining operations in the Amazon.
Brazil's government has given the formal go-ahead for the building on a tributary of the Amazon of the world's third biggest hydroelectric dam.
After several failed legal challenges, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed the contract for the Belo Monte dam with the Norte Energia consortium.
|The Hypancistrus zebra, a species endemic to the Big Bend area of the Xingu River by Birger A|
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attempted to reassure those in opposition:
At the contract signing ceremony in Brasilia on Thursday, President Lula said he himself had criticised the dam before he learnt more about it.
"You cannot imagine how many times I spoke against Belo Monte without even knowing what it was about, and it is precisely during my government that Belo Monte is being unveiled," he said.
"I think this is a victory for Brazil's energy sector.
"We will persuade them that we took seriously into account the environmental and social issues," he added.
We will see if those concerns were truly taken into consideration. Indigenous leaders remain unconvinced:
"The government has signed a death warrant for the Xingu river and condemned thousands of residents to expulsion," local Indian leaders said on Thursday.
Scientists have successfully tackled the largest, and perhaps one of the most important genomes to date.
Wheat physiologist Matthew Reynolds from a non-profit research organisation CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), said that sequencing the wheat genome was a way to develop more productive, resource-efficient varieties of this crop.
"Such varieties are crucial to meet increased demand from growing and more prosperous populations, confront the challenges of climate change and looming scarcities of land, water, and fertiliser, and avoid global food shortages and price spikes that particularly harm the poor," he told BBC News.
"Sequencing the wheat genome could help identify and manipulate specific genes for useful traits, such as tolerance to drought, resistance to crop diseases, or better grain quality... we can expect that improved crop management will be at least 50% of the solution."
The results of the study, led by Neil Hall from the University of Liverpool, are available for public use.
ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2010) — Lead author Tong Lee of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Michael McPhaden of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, measured changes in El Niño intensity since 1982. They analyzed NOAA satellite observations of sea surface temperature, checked against and blended with directly-measured ocean temperature data. The strength of each El Niño was gauged by how much its sea surface temperatures deviated from the average. They found the intensity of El Niños in the central Pacific has nearly doubled, with the most intense event occurring in 2009-10.
The scientists say the stronger El Niños help explain a steady rise in central Pacific sea surface temperatures observed over the past few decades in previous studies-a trend attributed by some to the effects of global warming. While Lee and McPhaden observed a rise in sea surface temperatures during El Niño years, no significant temperature increases were seen in years when ocean conditions were neutral, or when El Niño's cool water counterpart, La Niña, was present.
"Our study concludes the long-term warming trend seen in the central Pacific is primarily due to more intense El Niños, rather than a general rise of background temperatures," said Lee.
"These results suggest climate change may already be affecting El Niño by shifting the center of action from the eastern to the central Pacific," said McPhaden. "El Niño's impact on global weather patterns is different if ocean warming occurs primarily in the central Pacific, instead of the eastern Pacific.
In case you missed it, climate scientist, author, and activist James Hansen recently published an op-ed in the Guardian. His message? Sometimes 'green' isn't really green enough:
The situation is epitomised by my recent trip to Norway. I hoped that Norway, because of its history of environmentalism, might be able to take real action to address climate change, drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the words and pseudo-actions of other nations.
So I wrote a letter to the prime minister suggesting that Norway, as majority owner of Statoil, should intervene in its plans to develop the tar sands of Canada. I received a polite response, by letter, from the deputy minister of petroleum and energy. The government position is that the tar sands investment is "a commercial decision", that the government should not interfere, and that a "vast majority in the Norwegian parliament" agree that this constitutes "good corporate governance". The deputy minister concluded his letter: "I can however assure you that we will continue our offensive stance on climate change issues both at home and abroad."
A Norwegian grandfather, upon reading the deputy minister's letter, quoted Saint Augustine: "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue."
James Hansen is often criticized (mostly by conservatives and denialists) for eschewing scientific reticence for environmental activism. I think his body of work speaks for itself, and his explanations for the actions he has taken ring true. Hansen sees the problem as a scientist, understands the consequences as a grandfather, and fights for solutions as an activist. The fact that even the 'greenest' nations are falling short in his eyes should be distressing to everyone. It is clear that we still have a lot of work to do.
Greg (Three Cups of Tea, Stones Into Schools) Mortnenson's non-profit (CAI) recommends supporting a local (Pakistani) group to which donations will likely have a large, immediate, and lasting impact-
Healing Development Foundation
(800) 705 1310
From their page about the flooding:
HDF is committed to work towards relief and reconstruction efforts in flood affected HDF program areas including Mardan and Tandoo Muhammad Khan. HDF already has the existing infrastructure and a team of trained employees and volunteers in place. Currently there is need for basic necessities like tents, blankets, cooking sets, utility containers, soap and bedding as well as, basic healthcare.
• • • • • •
Other groups that deserve support as well.
With an estimated 6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, I am concerned that so far the international community hasn’t responded with the speed or on the scale warranted by a disaster of this magnitude.
• • • • • •
From the US State dept.
How You Can Help:
Text "SWAT" to 50555; $10 goes to fund for flood victims
LaughingPlanet started a(nother) Google group do address the crisis in Pakistan. Anyone who would like to get involved or get alerts when a new HELP PAKISTAN diary is posted, please join.
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